San Francisco Giants advance to NLCS over Nationals
By Mark ONeill
The San Francisco Giants scored on a walk, a groundout to the right side, and a wild pitch, and it was enough to propel them past the Washington Nationals and into the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, who defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers, three games to one. The final score in Tuesday night’s game matched that of game two, 3-2.
Proving once again that good pitching beats good hitting, the much maligned Ryan Vogelsong took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, and ended up giving up one run, on two hits, with two walks and four strikeouts, in five-and-two-thirds innings. His gritty performance set the stage for a successful small-ball attack, and the result was a third trip to the NLCS in five years. Though the Giants scored only nine runs in the four games, it was enough, because their pitching was simply overwhelming. Both teams totaled the same number of runs scored, nine, but the Giants managed to bag three of the four games.
Though no runs were scored as a result of a base-knock, the Giants still rapped out nine hits, all of them singles. Joe Panik, Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford each had two, while Hunter Pence, Gregor Blanco, and even Vogelsong each contributed one, Vogelsong’s coming on a perfect bunt down the third base line.
Joe Panik had two hits, knocked in a run, and score d the decisive run in the seventh inning.Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
The Giants scored first in the second inning, when Blanco drew a bases-loaded walk, scoring Crawford. Panik then hit a ball to the right side for a 4-3 putout, Juan Perez scoring on the play. And until the seventh inning, that was it. On the day Panik had two hits, knocked in one and scored the game’s deciding run in the seventh.
In the seventh inning, Panik and Posey singled after there was one out, and Hunter Pence walked. With Pablo Sandoval batting, Aaron Barrett uncorked a wild pitch and Panik scored. The Nationals then decided to walk Sandoval intentionally, and things got bizarre.
Barrett lobbed the first pitch well over catcher Wilson Ramos’ head and Posey broke for the plate. The ball hit the backstop and ricocheted directly back to Ramos, who flipped the ball to Barrett in time to tag the sliding Posey. An instant replay review upheld the call.
Gio Gonzalez started for the Nationals and worked four innings, giving up two unearned runs on four hits, with one walk and one strikeout. There was no explanation as to why Gonzalez was taken out of the game at the end of four. Tanner Roark replaced Gonzalez in the fifth, and the going got rough when Gregor Blanco and Joe Panik each singled to lead off the inning. Roark got Posey to fly out, and Pence on a fielder’s choice before Jerry Blevins was brought in to get Belt swinging, to end the inning.
Blevins went on to pitch the sixth, before Matt Thornton came in for the seventh. The Nats had just scored on Bryce Harper’s homer in the top of the seventh, tying the game at two, and Thornton’s job was to hold the fort. He gave up back to back singles and eventually Panik would score on the wild pitch. Thornton was charged with the run, thus earning the loss. Rafael Soriano finished up the eighth and pitched the ninth.
Once Vogelsong survived the fifth, when the Nationals scored the first of their two runs, he began the sixth and got the first two outs, the second one coming on the defensive play of the game. Jayson Werth, who had a very quiet series, lined a rocket to the right field corner, that Hunter Pence raced back to the wall before leaping and catching it, while fully extended, and as high in the air as he could propel himself.
Hunter Pence made the defensive play of the game. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
It was a dazzling display of vintage Pence, a game-breaker, and and it served to crank the volume up at AT&T Park. It also was a sign to Bruce Bochy that it was time to bring in Javier Lopez, who got Adam Laroche on a fly ball. Hunter Strickland pitched the seventh and once again, as he had done in Washington, he served up a fast ball that Bryce Harper deposited into the Bay. If you’re keeping track of these things, that makes an upper deck shot in DC and a splash hit here in San Francisco, both solo shots. But as these things occasionally work out, Strickland was credited with the win when his teammates bailed him out.
Sergio Romo pitched an electric eighth inning, retiring the Nats in order as the volume level amped up at the home park. Santiago Casilla came in to pitch the ninth, and except for a gut-wrenching at-bat to Harper, who eventually walked, he retired the Nats for the series victory.
The game was tense, well-pitched, and had the Nationals hitting the only two extra base hits of the game. The Giants scored three runs playing small ball, and featured the most dominant pitching imaginable. On paper there is no way the Giants win this series, but the game is not played on paper.
On paper the Giants do not win the series; fortunately, the game is not played on paper.
It’s played in front of 40,000 plus rabid fans and the players who deal with the noise and the distractions best, advance to the next round.
With nine players remaining from the 2010 Championship team, and fourteen left from 2012, the Giants are well-equipped to put up a grand battle against the Cardinals. We’ve seen this matchup before and we know that the Cards are hungry. Ravenous.
But the Giants have beaten them before with much the same team and they appear determined to do so again. Having traveled to Pittsburgh, and come away triumphant, and then moved on to Washington, where they snagged two, the Giants have proven that they are road warriors.
The Giants have won six of their last seven games this season; they have won eleven of their last twelve playoff games, and Bochy has managed the Giants to eight consecutive postseason series victories, compiling a 26-10 record in the process. I would say it doesn’t get any better than this, but that may prove premature.
After all, the biggest prize is still waiting out there for the team that does best in this even-numbered year, and right now, I like the Giants’ chances.